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In the Lead: German Ambassador Emily Haber

German Reunification Day (or German Unity Day) is a significant holiday to the German people. After World War II, Germany was divided into East and West Germany for almost half a century. On October 3, 1990, both sides were officially reunified into one country.

To help commemorate this important day, we spoke with H.E. Emily Haber, the Ambassador of Germany to the United States and a new member of IWF Washington, D.C. Ambassador Haber is a career foreign service officer who has worked on security and migration at the height of the refugee crisis in Europe. In this capacity, she worked closely with the United States on issues from the fight against terrorism to global cyberattacks and cybersecurity.

For this edition of In the Lead, Ambassador Haber told us about becoming a new member of the IWF community, what German Reunification Day means to Germans and what she thinks women bring to the field of diplomacy.

Tell us about growing up in a diplomatic family. What life lessons did you learn from that time that you still use today?

I lived in many different places from a young age and went to school in New Delhi, Paris, Brussels and Athens, to name a few. I’d like to think that I learned early on the virtues of open-mindedness and respect for other ways of doing things. Only in retrospect did I realize that my situation was exceptional or unusual.

When I came to Washington in June of last year as the German Ambassador to the United States, I became the first woman to hold this post. But it certainly wasn’t my first time in Washington. It was a homecoming of sorts, because I attended the German School in the late 1960s when my family lived here. As a child, moving and adapting to new places was just part of what my family did and what I was expected to do, as well. It probably taught me to understand that there are angles, experiences and views that might differ from what I believed or was taught, but were important to understand or respect all the same.

One session at our upcoming Toronto conference will tackle the global refugee crisis. You’ve worked extensively in this field. What drew you toward working with this group of people?

At the height of the refugee crises in Germany, I was serving as State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of the Interior, so I was on the front lines as we and all of Germany were confronted with the complex and rapidly unfolding situation. It has led to vigorous debate and soul-searching in Germany and throughout the European Union, which grappled with the different aspects of managing migration: responsibility for protecting the world’s most vulnerable people; security of borders; readiness or capacity of societies to allow and adapt to change; capacity of governments to manage and control change. Yet we realized that cross-border issues can only be approached by solidarity, which is why we aimed for a European solution.

German people feel very passionately about German Reunification Day. What do you wish more people understood about this holiday?

That it was anything but inevitable, even though it might seem that way now. Yes, there had been signs before that fateful day in November 1989 that the political situation in Eastern Europe was shaky, but it was absolutely not a forgone conclusion that the Berlin Wall would eventually fall, or that it would happen as quickly as it did.

Even though the fall of the wall happened 30 years ago, it remains a vivid and indelible memory for many in Germany and across the world. November 9, 1989, has gone down in history – unofficially, at least – as the largest street party the world has ever seen. It took place in Berlin that evening, after the wall fell, and the whole world was invited. And the world will never forget the pictures of euphoric Berliners – East and West – tearing down the wall together that had divided them for almost three decades.

Much has been written about persistent internal divisions within Germany today, even if the physical barriers are gone. But while there are regional differences, the progress made since then is nothing short of incredible.

You were the first woman to hold the posts of Political Director and State Secretary at the Foreign Office. What unique abilities do you think women bring to the field of diplomacy?

Diplomacy benefits when a diverse group of people is at the table because you incorporate diverse life experiences and perspectives. Women bring this diversity, and while they have not traditionally been proportionally represented at the highest levels, this is changing. Even in the Foreign Ministry, there has been much discussion over the years about how to best include women. One of the most effective ways is to foster an environment where everybody’s contributions are taken seriously and everybody has the chance to rise to leadership positions. This is best done not through quotas but through an inclusive environment that places special emphasis on identifying promising leaders among underrepresented groups, including women.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t only depend on how many women we include in diplomacy; it depends on the positions they are occupying. There were times in my career when I was responsible for dossiers of areas dominated by men, usually in security-related contexts. There is a need to break open the existing marginalization of women in key positions in areas like security and defense or conflict resolution. Germany is trying to do this by focusing on the participation of women in foreign and security policy through our UN Security Council membership.

You recently joined the International Women’s Forum as a new member of IWF D.C. What made you want to be part of this community?

IWF is a perfect fit for me as an ambassador in Germany’s Foreign Service because it spans the globe. I recognize the importance of women occupying leadership positions of all kinds in a variety of fields, and my membership in IWF is a way of drawing positive, productive attention to this in an organization that has a proven track record of supporting female leaders. A lot of attention is paid to “firsts” – the first woman to hold an upper-level position, for example. While this certainly is important, the overall goal is to expand opportunities for women. Women in top leadership positions in all fields should be a routine part of professional life. This is why supporting a community of role models is necessary to affirm their stories. The message should be everywhere that there is no limit to what women can achieve.

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In the Lead: German Ambassador Emily Haber
In the Lead: German Ambassador Emily Haber
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